We’ve all had to introduce someone to another person we know at some point in our lives. While our introductions may not be as spectacular as the one in the circus, they are just as important. Much like the Ringmaster who extols the daring feats of the acts you are about to see in the circus, the Book of Matthew serves as an introduction to the One whom the prophets have been promising would come, the Messiah. Matthew does this by quoting the Old Testament 50 times and alluding to it 70 more times as he presents Jesus, first through His genealogy (Mt. 1:1-17), and then through the events of His life, death, and resurrection as well as the things He taught and did. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart divide the book in this way: Prologue (1:1-2:23); Introduction (3:1-4:11); Proclamation (4:12-7:29); Power and Mission (8:1-10:42); Questioning and Opposition (11:1-13:52); Opposition Continues (13:53-18:35) and Confession (16:13-20); Jerusalem Receives and Rejects Her King (19:1-25:46); and Jesus, the Messianic King, is Tried, Crucified and Raised from the Dead (26:1-28:20).
Matthew does not present Jesus’ story in a strictly chronological fashion as we are prone to do when we retell events nowadays, rather he groups the important information about Jesus topically. As you read through Matthew’s account you will find such literary highlights as The Sermon on the Mount which emphasizes that ethics go beyond the Law and into the heart (Mt. 5-7), Jesus’ use of parables in His teachings (Mt. 13:3-8, 18-23, 24-30, 31-32, 33-35, 36-43, 44, 45-46, 47-52; 18:23-35; 20:1-15; 21:28-31, 33-41, 42-45; 22:1-14; 25:1-13, 14-30), frequent references to the Kingdom of Heaven and what it means to be a citizen/disciple in that kingdom (Mt. 7:14 in association with Lev. 19:18; Mt. 16:24-27), the Olivet Discourse where Jesus prepares His disciples for His departure and return (Mt. 24), and the decisive moment where the disciples confess their belief that Jesus is the Messiah (Mt. 16:13-20).
One of the most striking features of Matthew’s Gospel is his frequent use of the formula, “this was to fulfill that which was spoken through the prophet…” signifying that every event in Jesus’ life happens according to God’s specific will- even the Cross. The evidence of Scriptural fulfillment throughout Jesus’ life is quite impressive (Mt. 1:22-23/Is. 7:14; Mt. 2:5-6/Mic. 5:2; Mt. 2:15/Hos. 1:1; Mt. 2:17-18/Jer. 31:15; Mt. 2:23/Is. 11:1; Mt. 3:3/Is. 40:3; Mt. 4:14-16/Is. 9:1-2; Mt. 8:17/Is. 53:4; Mt. 11:10/Mal. 3:1; Mt. 12:17-21/Is. 42:1-4; Mt. 13:14-15/Is. 6:9-10; Mt. 13:35/Ps. 78:2-3; Mt. 15:7-9/Is. 29:13; Mt. 21:4-5/Is. 62:11 and Zech. 11:12-13; Mt. 27:9-10). This aspect of His life and ministry stands as a testimony to the certainty that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Jesus also quoted Scripture in reference to Himself (for example: Mt. 4:1-11; 5:21-43; 11:20-24; 15:1-9; 19:1-22; 24:25-30; 26:30-31; 27:45-50) as His own proof concerning this Divine mission and role. A final literary piece of icing on the cake is Matthew’s inclusio, a literary device which serves as a set of bookends surrounding the bulk of what is written about a person, topic, or event. In Matthew’s Gospel the inclusio is found in Mt. 1:23 and Mt. 28:20. Both of these verses contain a statement about God’s presence. Matthew is saying in an artistic and poetic way, “The Messiah has come. He is God with us. And here are all the things that prove it.”
Many years ago a friend shared his unique story of faith with me and I have never forgotten it. As a Jewish man he considered the “Christian Bible” (i.e. the New Testament) to be riddled with fairy tales and false information about God. He was certain it was skewed. But someone challenged him about his perception of the New Testament saying, “How do you know this? Read through Matthew and tell me what you think.” So to prove that person wrong he began to read it. It turned out to be a powerful introduction to the promised Messiah and his life was never the same after that. You and I have been sent on a mission to introduce people to the Messiah (Mt. 28:19-20). Let’s take our inspiration from Matthew and get to it!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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